My four-year-old nephew, Hamada, listened wide-eyed as I read "The Pied Piper of Hamlin" to him. When I stopped reading, he said, "Is this the end? I don't like this story. It's a bad one."
"Why?" I asked.
"That piper took away all the children," he said.
"Well," I explained, "the children's parents refused to pay the piper for getting rid of all the rats as they had promised. So, he punished them for failing him."
Hamada slid away from me. I could not quite make him see the fable as a story about the importance of keeping a promise. I didn't really want to further explain the harsh repercussions that resulted in Hamlin. Perhaps, I should have tried harder, because harsh retribution as well as determination to wipe out a whole group of people, children included, is the name of the game in Hamada's home world today.
Over the last few days, the streets of the West Bank and Gaza changed from the dusty Holy Land, into a war zone. Bloody clashes between stone-throwing Palestinian youth and bullet shooting Israeli soldiers have killed at least 50 Palestinians and injured more than 1,000. This violence together with the complete closure of Jerusalem and virtually all Palestinian institutions, kept my family and I at home watching international television. Hamada who had no possibility of going off to kindergarten cuddled up with me and our family to watch, as well.
As we watch, we see a father running with his 12-year old son, Muhammad Al Durra. There is nowhere for him to go. He heads toward a concrete wall in an effort to escape Israeli soldiers' bullets. The father shields his son with his arms and body. An Israeli sniper fires and hits the boy. The father lays his son on the ground and lifts his arms, calling out for help. As he does, a sniper's bullet hits him, too. What the camera failed to show was the ambulance driver who pulled up and got out to help. But, the driver could not help. The snipers riddled him with bullets and he lay dead as well.
As I see the terrifying scene, I take Hamada out of the room and out of the television's sound range. Hamada is terrified. I am speechless. Another family known to us lost a father who went to the Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday, Sept. 30th and never came back. I went to Makassad Hospital to do what I, a medical student, could do: comfort families whose relatives lay dead because of rubber bullets shot through eyes and out the backs of Palestinian's heads and assist in taking metal bullets (banned by international law) from the heads and stomachs of men, women and children.
Now, my parents do not want me to go to the hospital. Israeli soldiers are shooting at medical personnel and blood donors trying to get into hospitals to help. Jerusalem itself seems quiet. We do not dare go out on the street to check this out. I think about how I can get to the hospital safely. I was a child during the years of the Intifada that started 13 years ago. I used to cope with the unhappy experiences by sizing up what I saw happening: this person was right and that one wrong; this act good and that one bad. I felt hate and came to believe in evil.
The Intifada ended when it helped the rest of the world see what the Palestinian/Israeli conflict meant to us natives of Palestine. Finally, our stones showed the world the reality of Zionism. So, things began to normalize. Palestinian leaders begin to work towards the creation of a government and a state. Joint-projects spun off between Palestinians and Israelis. There was even a children's joint Palestinian/Israeli "Sesame Street" developed and aired, with, I might add, a small part of the show in Arabic, but the majority in Hebrew.
I began medical school at Al-Quds University, the first medical school to prepare Palestinian doctors to help their own people. I traveled over seas. I realized that everything is not black and white. I came to see the gray areas in my own government as well in that of our oppressors. I even learned that countries like Britain and America are not perfect or as evenly democratic as I had thought. I began to see persons as individuals. I no longer classified all Israelis or Zionists or Jews or Christians or Muslims as being the same: all good or all bad. Having grown up during the Intifada, I struggled with the idea of accepting Israel as a fact, but I did my best to be forgiving.
Today, as I think of what to say to Hamada, I am confused. I want to tell him how I feel; but I don't want to teach him to hate. If Hamada did not like the piper's tale, it is unlikely that he will appreciate my explanation about why a 12-year-old boy and his father died before his eyes. What should we say to our children? What should we tell the kids who are still waiting at the dinner table for their fathers who went to Al Aqsa mosque for the Friday prayer and never came back? How do the fathers and brothers explain the loss of their eyes to their toddlers as they teach them the name of human organs? How can we comfort Mohammad's siblings and his classmates?
To be a conqueror, as the Israelis are to Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and even some Jews, a man or nation cannot allow conscience to come to mind. September/October 2000 in Jerusalem has been war.
I don't know what to say to Hamada, and I'm afraid that anything I say in the painful state I'm in will introduce to him the idea of becoming a man who seeks revenge for the wrong done to him and his people. So, Hamada and I sit in our garden under our olive tree. We smell the lemons and oranges and look up at the very blue sky. I do not say anything at all and neither does Hamada.
(Samah Jabr is a freelance journalist and medical student in Jerusalem. This article from the Palestine Report was re-published with permission from the author. You may visit their website at www.palestinechronicle.com)